Eagles

More J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, less Mack Hollins in latest Eagles wide receiver shakeup

More J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, less Mack Hollins in latest Eagles wide receiver shakeup

Are we about to finally see a changing of the guard at wide receiver?
 
Eagles head coach Doug Pederson said Wednesday rookie second-round pick J.J. Arcega-Whiteside will have an expanded role on offense starting Sunday in Miami.
 
JJAW’s snaps would presumably come at the expense of Mack Hollins, who got 374 snaps the first nine games of the season but caught only 10 passes for 125 yards. He hasn’t caught a pass since Week 4, despite averaging 28 snaps per game during that span.
 
“That’s kind of been our plan kind of moving forward,” Pederson said. “J.J.’s kind of the guy now. He’s done some nice things the last couple games, he’s gaining a little more confidence in that. Nelly (Nelson Agholor) can obviously play over there and then bringing Greg (Ward) up obviously gives us some flexibility in the slot. So J.J. and Mack kind of fill that spot and really kind of back up a couple spots.”
 
Hollins’ snaps were reduced drastically the last two weeks in favor of Jordan Matthews, who started the last two games outside. During losses to the Patriots and Seahawks, Hollins played only 16 of 151 snaps on offense while Matthews got 137.
 
But the Eagles released Matthews on Monday, opting to keep Ward on the 53-man roster instead. 
 
More on Ward in a minute.
 
Pederson said Alshon Jeffery and Agholor are expected back Sunday for the Dolphins. Jeffery missed the last two games with an ankle injury and Agholor missed last week’s game with a knee.
 
But even with them returning, if Hollins’ playing time remains low, there will be snaps for Arcega-Whiteside.
 
It sounds like Jeffery and Arcega-Whiteside will start outside, with Agholor in the slot.
 
JJAW has shown flashes the last two weeks, with a 29-yard reception against the Patriots and a 30-yarder against the Seahawks.
 
That made him the first Eagles rookie receiver with a 25-yard catch in consecutive games since Matthews had a 26-yarder against the Redskins and a 44-yarder against the Giants late in the 2014 season. 
 
But overall he has just 5-for-86 so far.
 
Why does Pederson think JJAW is ready for a bigger role?
 
“I just think what I’ve seen in practice, how he’s taken his coaching from classroom to the practice field, some of the things he did in the game last week,” Pederson said. “Even though the ball didn’t necessarily maybe go his direction, just how he was able to run routes, some of the things he did that way, blocking, things of that nature. Look, it’s where we are in our season and these guys were drafted for a reason and now we’ve got to get them to play and play well.”
 
As for Ward, Pederson said he’ll have a larger role coming off his six-catch game Sunday in what was essentially his first NFL game playing on offense.
 
Ward was on the practice squad in 2017 and was here in training camp last year before leading the AAF in receiving while playing for the San Antonio Commanders. He spent most of this year back on the practice squad before getting promoted last week.
 
“He’s earned it,” Pederson said of the former Houston quarterback. “He deserves it by the way he’s practiced. He’ll have a role.”
 
All of this raises the question why Ward languished on the practice squad for all but one game this year — he was active against the Lions but got only two snaps on offense — while Hollins failed to produce and Matthews was brought in for an unsuccessful third stint here.
 
“Sometimes it’s complicated with the roster,” Pederson said. “We felt like we were on track to maybe getting him up a couple weeks ago, but then we have an injury in the secondary and you’ve got to pull a guy up there. Or in our case, we had a couple receivers go down and (signed) Jordan Matthews. … It’s a little big of a juggling act.”
 
Ward picked up three first downs with his six catches against the Seahawks Sunday.
 
He’s mainly a slot, so whatever action he gets presumably would come with Agholor moving outside.

“We’ve been real comfortable and confident with Greg all year,” Pederson said. “He’s earned it, he deserves this opportunity. But the timing earlier in the year just wasn’t right for us to make that move.”
 
When it comes to the Eagles' receiving corps, any change is definitely a positive.

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Cross Eagles offensive coordinator candidates James Urban and Bobby Engram off the list

Cross Eagles offensive coordinator candidates James Urban and Bobby Engram off the list

On Thursday, we learned that the Eagles were interested in Ravens quarterbacks coach James Urban for their vacant offensive coordinator opening.

The next day, we found out that isn’t happening. 

At his year-end press conference in Baltimore on Friday, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said the Eagles interviewed Urban and TEs coach Bobby Engram for openings but both candidates pulled their names out of contention within the last 24 hours.

While the Eagles were reportedly interested in Urban as an offensive coordinator candidate, they were also reportedly interested in Engram as a wide receivers coach candidate. Those are the two vacancies on the offensive side of the ball for the Eagles. (They also have to fill the defensive backs coach spot left vacant by Cory Undlin, who went to Detroit as a defensive coordinator.)

Urban, 46, seemed like he’d be a good fit for the Eagles. He’s a hot name right now based on his success with likely MVP Lamar Jackson this year. And he has familiarity with the Eagles and head coach Doug Pederson. 

Urban and Pederson were on Andy Reid’s Eagles staff together in 2009 and 2010. In fact, when Urban left after the 2010 season, Pederson took over his role as the Eagles’ quarterbacks coach. 

Urban spent the next seven seasons as the Bengals’ wide receivers coach and then the last two seasons in Baltimore coaching Jackson and their other quarterbacks. 

But now we can cross him off the list. 

Same goes for Engram, who was one of two former players of interest named in a report by the Philadelphia Inquirer last week. The other was former NFL star Hines Ward, who spent this past season as an offensive assistant with the New York Jets. 

It has been over a week since the Eagles fired Mike Groh and they have been very quiet as they search for their next offensive coordinator. In fact, Urban was one of the first names even mentioned in reports. 

Some other names of interest still available are Chiefs OC Mike Kafka, Dolphins QBs coach (and former Colts HC) Jim Caldwell, former Redskins HC Jay Gruden and internal candidates Press Taylor and Duce Staley.

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Miles Sanders breaks down his case for Rookie of the Year

Miles Sanders breaks down his case for Rookie of the Year

Down the stretch of the 2019 season, Miles Sanders didn’t want to talk about his chances to win NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. He was focused on winning games. 

Now that the Eagles’ season is over, though, it’s a discussion worth having. Because Sanders should definitely be in the mix. 

On Thursday, the Eagles’ running back was on the FS1 show “Undisputed” and was asked about his chances to win the annual Associated Press award.

“I think I have a pretty good shot,” Sanders said. “With the other guys that's being nominated, there's Josh Jacobs, [he] had a good year too and Kyler Murray too. All had great rookie years. But I got a lot of confidence in myself based on the type of production that I gave, basically, I think, in half of a season, with (Darren) Sproles going down, going on IR, and Jordan Howard going down for the rest of the half of the season.”

While he didn’t want to talk about ROY late in the season, it’s pretty clear Sanders knows when he’s been slighted. 

The Eagles haven’t had a Rookie of the Year since tight end Charle Young won the award way back in 1973. But Sanders definitely has as strong case for his performance in 2019. 

After a pretty slow start, Sanders got better with every week and then he helped carry the Eagles once Howard went down and was a big reason why the Eagles got into the playoffs. He finished with 818 rushing yards, 509 receiving yards and six total touchdowns. 

Sanders set an Eagles rookie record and led all rookies this season with 1,327 yards from scrimmage. 

There’s plenty of competition, though. Jacobs was just named the PFWA Offensive Rookie of the Year a couple days ago but that doesn’t always match the AP list, which is considered the real award. Jacobs, fair or not, might have an advantage as a first-round pick. 

And then there’s Murray, who might have an advantage as a quarterback. 

Why does Sanders think he has a chance over an impressive rookie QB? 

“I think you can say how important those last four games were, that run that we went on. And just knowing that we had to win those four games in order to get to the playoffs. … I think those four games were big and I stepped up pretty well. They asked me to do a lot, they like to find ways to get me the ball. And I’ve been doing well as far as each game just getting better and better at it.”

Sanders is right. He stepped up in those big games. In the final four games of the regular season, he averaged 4.73 yards per attempt and averaged 112 yards from scrimmage per game. And unlike Murray and Jacobs, Sanders helped get his team to the playoffs. He was sixth in the entire NFL in scrimmage yards in December. 

Let’s take a look at the top candidates for Offensive Rookie of the Year and their respective cases: 

RB Miles Sanders (Eagles): Finished with 818 rushing yards, 509 receiving yards, 6 touchdowns, led all rookies with 1,327 yards from scrimmage, added 314 return yards earlier in the season  

QB Kyler Murray (Cardinals): Led rookie quarterbacks with 3,722 passing yards and 544 rushing yards, threw for 20 touchdowns (12 INTs) and rushed for 4 more. Led bad Cardinals team to a 5-10-1 record.  

RB Josh Jacobs (Raiders): Led all rookies with 1,150 rushing yards and seven rushing touchdowns, finished second with 1,316 scrimmage yards, had five 100-yard games 

WR A.J. Brown (Titans): Finished with 1,051 receiving yards and 8 touchdowns to lead all rookies, averaged 20.2 yards per reception, team is in AFC Championship Game

There’s definitely some stiff competition this year. Any of those four guys would be deserving but Sanders definitely has one of the strongest cases. And a running back has won in four of the last six years. 

So does Sanders think he’s going to win? 

“I could just say I feel confident in myself,” Sanders said. “I just pray to God I could be blessed with the opportunity. That would be a blessing and a dream come true.”

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